How are high-performing teams different from their competitors, and what makes them stand out from the pack? High-performing teams aren’t just “nice to have” for an organization. Rather, they can be the make-or-break difference between a successful company and one that can’t keep its head above water. But high-performing teams don’t happen on their own or accidentally. Instead, developing high-performing teams takes work, effort, and specific initiatives from managers.
But how do managers learn the ropes when it comes to developing high-performing teams? Organizations can put learning and development (L&D) efforts into their managers to teach them how to develop high-performing teams. Research tells us that the top focus area for L&D programs in 2022 is leadership and management skills training, and for good reason. When leaders and managers are properly trained, they can develop their teams’ skills, leading to company-wide success.
Teams can be tricky. It’s not enough to pull together a group of people with the right skills and talent. There also has to be direction, cohesion, and collective efforts. If members of a team aren’t working together as a team, then they won’t perform at their highest level, no matter how good they are alone. Studies have found that high-performing teams are almost twice as likely to have above-average performance. As the baseball great Yogi Berra is famous for saying, “Talent wins games, but teamwork…wins championships.”
Characteristics of High-Performing Teams
To understand how L&D efforts can help managers master developing high-performing teams, we first need to identify what makes the team high-performing and what differentiates those teams from merely average or adequate working groups. Here are some key elements that high-performance teams share:
High-performing teams have distinct goals and work towards a shared purpose. This makes it easier to agree on their priorities and clearly define their specific roles. When everyone knows exactly what they are supposed to do, what they are meant to achieve, and when, they heighten their chances of success.
The highest-performing teams understand that they need to be prepared for an uncertain future, which is why adaptability is recognized as a critical tool that can help teams overcome challenges and obstacles. The work landscape today is volatile and unpredictable and has unprecedented challenges. The best teams aren’t stagnant, stuck in their ways, or slow to adjust. Instead, high-performing teams are adaptable at a moment’s notice and can easily switch gears, adjust goals, and change course to ensure success.
The highest-performing teams have members who are connected with one another, both inside and outside of work. Research from Harvard reveals that one key quality of the highest performing teams is that they invest time “bonding over non-work topics” because these communications can help foster “authentic connections.” Additionally, this research found that the highest-performing teams are more authentic at work, express more honest emotions (positive and negative), and even use GIFs and emojis with one another in emails. This research (and other studies) find that authentic connection in the workplace contributes to better employee well-being, individual performance, and team performance.
High-performing teams demonstrate the highest levels of performance in several ways. First, they can easily prioritize work and projects accordingly by clearly distinguishing work that is of the highest urgency and offers the greatest impact. They also make decisions together, easily collaborate, and through psychological safety, freely express ideas and pose questions, which can lead to increased innovation.
A team’s attitude has a vast impact on its performance. If everyone shows up for the day dragging their feet, is generally unmotivated, and is making molehills into mountains, they’re going to be hard-pressed to be high-performing. Plus, teams need to have positive attitudes not only during easy times but also during challenging times. It’s important to remember that just because a team is high-performing doesn’t mean it never fails or makes mistakes. On the contrary, high-performing teams can fail at work projects and tasks and sometimes will. The difference is how these teams handle failure.
How to Build High-Performing Teams
Building high-performing teams requires intentional and clear leadership, and establishing the conditions that allow team members to thrive both individually and as part of the greater whole. Here are steps that L&D/People teams can use to train management on developing high-performing teams:
Align management to business goals
In order for teams to be high-performing, their managers need to understand how their efforts contribute to the larger business goals. L&D efforts can allow managers to deeply understand business goals, and how the work of their team impacts these business goals.
Teach psychological safety
As we touched on above, psychological safety is critical for developing high-performing teams today. Psychological safety in the workplace refers to an environment where everyone feels like they can share openly and honestly, without being penalized or embarrassed. This includes expressing ideas and posing questions, for example. Data tells us that psychological safety in the workplace contributes to tons of team benefits, such as less turnover, less stress, more engagement, and more productivity. L&D efforts can train managers about how to cultivate psychological safety within their teams.
Encourage high-performing management styles
Certain management styles are more effective than others when it comes to high-performing teams. For example, inappropriate micromanagement has been identified as a key reason that employees resign. With L&D efforts, management can learn effective leadership techniques, including powerful communication practices, such as open communication.
How to Make a Business Case for High-Performing Teams Training
High-performing teams are not just effective for the team itself; they produce powerful results for their orgaizations. But developing high performing teams requires managers who are well-trained in this area. With this in mind, decision-makers can build a strong business case for securing training for leaders at their organization. Here are some tips to get you started:
Identify potential performance improvements
High-performing teams can deliver up to 50% better performance than teams that are less engaged. With that in mind, find places in your own organization where team performance can be improved through L&D for managers, and calculate how improvements in these areas could benefit the business as a whole.
Tie team alignment to business objectives
Particularly well-aligned teams are more likely to promptly meet their goals and business objectives – which can be especially critical in competitive industries. Well-trained leaders are better able to unite their teams toward collective business objectives.
Include employee benefits
L&D training for managers can lead to employees that are happier, more engaged, and more motivated. That’s because these managers will be better equipped to lead teams with better employee retention, where everyone is pulling their weight, and where roles and responsibilities are clear.
Connect improved management to business goals
Building a strong business case for L&D for managers requires aligning these efforts to the larger organizational goals. With that in mind, demonstrate how learning & development for managers can lead to managers who need less guidance, who are more independent, self-motivated, and who seek and maintain excellent relationships with stakeholders.
Ultimately, when building a business case, seek to demonstrate how these elements work together to create a high-performing group that drives efficiency and yields outcomes that translate into increased revenue.
Leading High-Performance Teams as a Team Leader
Developing high-performing teams requires leadership that is well-equipped for the job. That’s because developing teams of this caliber require specific skills, expertise, and direction from the team leader. But as it turns out, many managers might not be prepared to develop ceiling-shattering teams. In one survey, 98% of managers said they could benefit from more training, while 87% of them said they “wish they had received more management training when they first became a manager.”
Leadership development is critical for organizations that want to have the highest-performing teams. Without this type of highly-trained and precise leadership, team performance is left up to chance. And since team performance is a critical driver of an organization’s success, it should be approached with targeted L&D approaches because, ultimately, leadership development is a surefire way of developing high-performing teams. With that in mind, here’s what a manager will need to do as the leader of a high-performing team:
- Make sure each team has diversity of thought and experience, and is equipped to encourage the sharing of ideas.
- Keep teams educated and informed; technology is constantly changing the workplace.
- Make sure the team is stable – that there isn’t substantial movement or turnover.
- Encourage team cohesion by working to instill shared values and share clear expectations with employees.
- Encourage a team culture centered around open communication
Failing to pair high-potential teams with excellent leadership can have serious consequences, including dampening motivation or creativity; creating instability, confusion, or frustration; or losing your high performers (both teams and individuals).
Building High-Performing Leaders and a High-Performing Team
Developing high-performing teams is critical for organizations that want to achieve their full potential, that want to withstand challenging economic conditions, and that want to stay ahead of their competition. And in order to develop these teams, organizations need to invest in learning and development efforts for their managers and leaders. These highly-trained leaders will use their finely-tuned skills, targeted approaches, and tried-and-true management methodologies to lead their teams to continued excellence.
Building a well-tuned, top-performing team is never easy, but in an increasingly competitive corporate environment, it’s critical to a company’s success. New technologies constantly shift the business landscape and empower new competitors, but a strong team will help organizations weather those changes.
Creating and developing a high-performing team isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight. Investing in your teams is just as important as investing in new tools or in high-performing individuals. If you want to build a business that lasts and stays innovative and competitive, this is not something you can afford to overlook.
Need help identifying areas where your teams need improvement? Schedule a demo and learn more about how RallyBright can help you.